GCW Zero, GBAtemp first impressions

Discussion in 'GBAtemp & Scene News' started by Another World, Dec 27, 2013.

  1. Another World
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    Another World Emulate the Planet!

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    The Zero, by Games Consoles Worldwide, is a spiritual successor to the Dingoo handheld gaming system. Pioneered by Justin Barwick, a former Dingoo reseller, the GCW Zero attempts to fix the faults of the Dingoo, while maintaining the support of an established community. The handheld is powered by an Ingenic JZ4770 1 GHz MIPS processor, features a Vivante GC860 GPU, 3.5 inch LCD, 512 MB DDR2 RAM, and 16GB of internal storage. What this translates into is the power to play PC games, support modern homebrew games and applications, and to emulate retro video game systems, all in the palm of your hand.

    gcw_zero_box_shot_top-small.jpg gcw_zero_insert_tray-small.jpg

    The GCW Zero received funding thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. The campaign was backed by 1,680 people and raised $238,498. For those that were not aware of the campaign, the Zero is currently available on Thinkgeek.com for $149.99. What will arrive in the mail is a well conceived end product. The box is a high grade professional cardboard that proudly displays images of the Zero, a few of the included freeware homebrew games, and some information about the handheld. The Zero is well supported inside the box by a cardboard shelf. Under the shelf is a mini-USB cable, a mini-HDMI cable, a mini-USB adapter, a wall charger, a soft carrying pouch, and an AV-out cable. The Zero comes pre-installed with a few games and some applications. Assuming the unit arrives with a bit of charge, the box contains everything you need to get gaming, almost instantly.

    For size comparisons, the Zero is about as long and wide as the Galaxy S4 smart phone or a standard 3DS, and is just about a half of an inch thick. The Zero is currently available in two colors, white or black. The plastic shell is comfortable to hold and smooth to the touch. The unit has two shoulder buttons, 4 face buttons, start and select buttons, a d-pad, and an analog stick. The top of the unit has the AV-out and mini-HDMI ports. The bottom of the unit has a DC port, mini-USB port, microSD slot, and a set of stereo speakers. There is a wrist strap or charm connecting slot on the left and the power-slider on the right.

    gcw_zero_bottom-small.jpg gcw_zero_top-small.jpg

    The power-slider can be used in conjunction with different button sequences to provide a variety of shortcut controls. These shortcuts can determine which kernel to boot, can be used to reboot the system, adjust the audio level, adjust the screen brightness, create screenshots, soft-reset back to the main menu, and more. For a full list of supported shortcuts be sure to read the GCW Quick Start Guide, linked at the bottom of this post.

    The Zero features a 3.5 inch, 320x240, LCD screen. This screen was chosen by GCW as the resolution is ideal for the intended retro gaming and emulation experiences. A larger screen would have required a software scaler, and increased CPU intensity. The decision to go with the smaller screen has translated into lower costs, better battery life, crisper graphics, and an overall more enjoyable experience for the end user.

    gcw_zero_manager-small.jpg

    Currently, there is no virtual file system for the internal microSD card. This means that the internal memory does not pop-up for drag-n-drop file transfers as one might expect. The development team hopes to remedy this in the future with the implementation of a Media Transfer Protocol (MTP). Until that time, connecting to the file system will require FTP, SFTP, SCP, Telnet, WIFI, SSH, or the GCW Zero Manager application. While this sounds like an extra step, I can assure you that the Zero is extremely easy to set-up and maintain. If your installed firmware does not contain the Network application, you will need to FTP into the device and install the update before you can transfer files over WIFI or with the GCW Zero Manager. The management software is a simple tool that will allow you to transfer and delete the GCW Zero software. It is the most rudimentary tool for putting new games and applications onto your Zero. It simply relies on a “one-button solution” that does all of the work for you. For more in-depth control of the Zero, an FTP (SFTP, SCP) client is recommended, as some software may require the creation of directories, manipulation of configuration files, additional data files, etc.

    Almost all software is placed into the same internal directory. Once software is transferred, it will automatically populate the correct gmenu2x tab based on included metadata. These features make it extremely easy to keep the Zero organized, yet this does limit those that prefer more organizational control over their files. Software is launched by pressing A, and boot-up times are usually under 3 seconds.

    The controls and buttons are very responsive. The d-pad issues that plagued the Dingoo designs are non-existent. The plastic d-pad and buttons may rub, ever-so-slightly, on the side of the shell. This is something that users have reported will elevate itself after some break-in time. The placement of ports is ideal, and it shows that GCW greatly considered the faults of the systems it succeeds. The bottom mounted speakers do a good job of reproducing sound, yet I have found that they become muffled by my hands. I have always been a fan of front facing speakers and I do wish they had been implemented here. The design of the handheld itself fits comfortably in my hands, is an ideal weight for long gaming sessions, and places the front facing input buttons in easy to reach positions. I never once felt strain while transitioning from d-pad to analog stick, or when reaching for the start button.

    gcw_zero_menu1-small.jpg gcw_zero_menu2-small.jpg

    I have not yet ventured very far into the supported emulation, yet what I have tried has been an enjoyable experience. The Zero currently supports a variety of classic experiences including NES, Genesis, SegaCD, DOS, ScummVM, GB, GBA, Master System, SNES, Game Gear, Arcade (MAME, FBA), PC, MSX, ZX81, TG-16, Atari, and more. Classic games like Doom and Strife run at full speed. Unique homebrew offerings such as Unnamed Monkey Game are an exceptional treat to play. Emulation feels accurate and fast, adding to the overall enjoyment of this handheld. While the Zero does not yet support as many software offerings as the Dingoo, the community is growing and more projects are being released as units get into the hands of developers. GCW has plans to create a paid option in their software repository, which may mean new Indie projects making their way to the handheld in the near future.

    The Zero was designed to be a handheld console. In fact, official reports often refer to it as a console and not a handheld. It can accept input from peripherals such as a mouse, keyboard, or external controllers. The idea is that connecting the Zero to a TV via HDMI will result in a portable gaming console that accepts the correct input for the required end result. The system also supports WIFI, which means both local and world wide multi-player gaming sessions are possible. While I have yet to test any of these features, both images and video confirm that they do function.

    gcw_zero-cavestory-small.jpg gcw_zero-strife-small.jpg

    The GCW software development team have proven themselves to be incredibly supportive of the Zero. Firmware updates continually bring new features, while software ports are being discussed, tweaked, and released. What sets the Zero apart from other Dingux supported systems is the accessibility of their core development team. They moderate the official forums and they maintain a presence on IRC. Everyone I have spoken with is not only knowledgeable, but extremely approachable and willing to take the time to discuss all aspects of the Zero. Those that have followed suit have been equally receptive to community responses, questions, and criticism. As long as this trend continues, the Zero should have a long life of fully supported games, emulation, applications, and retro experiences.

    While I am personally really enjoying the Zero, I am well aware that it may not be for everyone. The system was developed to answer the needs of the Dingoo community, and remains geared towards classic gaming experiences. Those that wish to compare the Zero to modern handhelds with higher specs should keep what the Zero set out to accomplish in mind. It is not a portable N64 and it is not competition for the PSP. It is an open source Linux-based handheld, designed for developers who wish to quickly and easily port their projects, and for gamers who wish to enjoy them. It will be up to developers to embrace the system and to push its hardware in new directions. Homebrew releases like Unnamed Monkey Game, and the recently released Dreamcast EMU, clearly show us what new experiences the Zero can bring.

    A full review of the Zero, its history, the hardware, its software, and all included aspects is already in the works. I hope to bring you this review in the coming month. Stay tuned to my Twitter account (@AW_GBAtemp) for news, info, and updates related to this review. As I uncover things about the Zero, and test new software, my reactions will be reported there first. If you have any questions about the Zero or its software, be sure to seek out the development team via their IRC channel. (irc.freenode.net, #GCW).

    :arrow: Purchase from ThinkGeek.com
    :arrow: GCW Zero Homepage
    :arrow: GCW Zero Kickstarter Campaign
    :arrow: GCW Zero Quick Start Guide
    :arrow: GCW Zero Official Forums
    :arrow: GCW Zero Official IRC Chatroom
     


  2. Another World
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    Another World Emulate the Planet!

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    above is just a little something about the zero and some comments after my first week of playing with it. if you have any questions please ask. please do not ask if X-game is emulated, how it plays, etc. i am focusing on the review and will not have the time to test individual requests.

    special thanks to vato, zear, surkow, justin, nebuleon, and johnnyonflame!!

    happy holidays everyone, and to everyone a good drinking night!

    -another world
     
  3. fermio100

    fermio100 Advanced Member

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    I funded more than 6 months ago it and never got the console. Have sent e-mails but got no response.

    Still believe it must be a great machine but can't help to feel cheated.

    My intention was to fund, try the thing and buy a couple more for my nephews, now I gave up and bought a JXD S7800B, and am happy with it. It's a great machine and they deliver what they sell.

    If at least I could get my 155 dollars back...
     
  4. omgpwn666

    omgpwn666 Guy gamer and proud!

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    Sorry to hear that. =/ You should probably try them some more, that's a lot of money.

    Question about this product, is this more powerful than PSP emulation? Like, could it run Golden Sun at full speed? Speculation welcome.
     
  5. Kippykip

    Kippykip D E L E T T H I S

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    Well that's not good :C
     
  6. Prior22

    Prior22 GBAtemp Advanced Fan

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    I'd like to know about the GBA emulation quality as well. I notice a fair amount of GBA games on PSP deal with crackling audio at certain points.
     
  7. Another World
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    Another World Emulate the Planet!

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    one of the most common complaints has been the slow production speed. what few seem to know is that GCW is run by 1 person. he is a staff of 1 and it has taken time to get the KS units shipped out. they are going out. many backers have them and are enjoying them. i recommend that you visit their site and shoot them an email. that will be your best bet to get into direct contact with someone involved. you can also join on their official forums and post your concerns. some of their devs, and their marketing manager, frequent gbatemp. i'll be sure to point out your comments to them when i see one of the team on IRC.

    -another world
     
  8. kuwanger

    kuwanger GBAtemp Regular

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    I'd say the GBA emulation is rather good. It's not perfect. Payback, which uses heavy use of a software 3D engine, is basically unplayable with pretty horrible frame rate. But, that's one of the major exceptions to the rule. Golden Sun, for example, works great so far--admittedly I haven't tested very far into the game, but at least as far as past the boulders at the start and battles all seem to be near/at frameskip 0 near always. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some other problem 3D games, though.

    My only real disappointment so far has been the SNES emulation (mostly given how consistently so many other handhelds have quirky or outright bad SNES emulation support). There's two emulators available: SNES9x4d and PocketSNES. Both of them have problems running some games--with usually the other capable of running the game in question. Still, a lot of games still have at least some frameskip (I was rather hoping for a need for near zero), fullscreen isn't even an option in PocketSNES and sometimes doesn't work with SNES9x4d (has something to do with a few games using high resolution mode, I think), and generally just having to fiddle around with two emulators isn't exactly great. :/ It's not terrible by any means, but it shows a little bit more lack of polish than I was expecting. It's certainly a lot better than most other SNES emulators I've seen for other handhelds. But I guess I was hoping for something more silky smooth, in a definitive "GCW Zero does SNES emulation great" sort of way. I don't think I'd go that far, yet. But, who knows. Maybe that will be true in the future.

    The only real major complaints are hardware related. So far, my right shoulder button is under sensitive, my left shoulder button is over sensitive, and the screen is less scratch resistant than indicated. My unit still has a squeaky D-pad which is very, very minorly annoying and the A button hardly sticks any more due to use--ie, those issues weren't entirely addressed in all KS units. But it's all pretty minor stuff, really. The good battery life, relative easy of porting stuff, and just generally the rather nice collection of very functional software makes most the complaints a moot point to me. But, it sounded like you and others want a more balanced review which would point out even the minor negative stuff.
     
  9. Zeliga

    Zeliga One step closer.

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    Interesting, I hope PSP emulation is possible.
     
  10. Slave

    Slave GBAtemp Fan

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    I long for a handheld system that will emulate Sega Saturn & Dreamcast games... we deserve it... in 10years all the friggin' devices runs the same platforms... its time to get new ones.
     
  11. the_randomizer

    the_randomizer The Temp's official fox whisperer

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    I've yet to see any handheld device that handles Snes emulation as well as Snes9x Next does on the Wii/PS3 (which does not use any frame skipping). I get the impression those GCW-Zero Snes emulators are based off of Snes9x 1.43.
     
  12. Heran Bago

    Heran Bago Where do puyo come from?

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    It's nice you don't have the squeaking or sticking d-pad some users have reported.
     
  13. Surkow

    Surkow Advanced Member

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    kuwanger, the bezel is unlikely to scratch. You might be talking about the screen protector.

    ReGBA is an effort of Nebuleon, who mainly worked on dynarec improvements. Thanks to Normmatt an open source GBA BIOS could be included in ReGBA.

    So far nobody has attempted to port Snes9x Next to the GCW Zero.
     
  14. Another World
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    Another World Emulate the Planet!

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    the dpad tends to shift to the right for me and it does rub and make a sound i do not like. if i shift it back to the left it goes away, but it always ends up back on the right. the rubbing catches the shell and forces me to press a little harder than expected, but for a 1st impressions post that is a moot point. even with this slight annoyance, the dpad is 100% responsive. i also do not yet know if it will break-in, my zero has less than 20 hours of usage so far. i didn't feel a need to mention it until the full review, because i do not like to complain about things until i know for sure if they are standing issues. i also never write what others are saying as fact, i prefer to report on my own experiences and to bring to light the experiences of others. this is why i mentioned that the dpad is very responsive, because it is, and i went on to mention what others are reporting, because i am not 100% experiencing these exact same issues.

    -another world
     
  15. Foxi4

    Foxi4 On the hunt...

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    Still quite sad that it's 320x240, although it's probably for the better considering its Retro gaming purposes... A higher resolution would've been better for Homebrew though.
     
  16. GuyInDogSuit

    GuyInDogSuit I ain't your pa.

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    Great review. I just bought one!
     
  17. Nebuleon

    Nebuleon MAH BOI/GURL

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    "If there are only people wanting and no people creating, then no new things get created."

    Payback's the only problem game, performance-wise, in ReGBA/GCW0. It runs terribly indeed, running at up to 14 FPS, and I don't think I can deal with that correctly and not break more games. (gpSP is a very shaky foundation to code on top of; any change can send the entire castle tumbling, as I saw when trying to modify even a small thing in the JIT at first.)

    I am proud of the performance even Golden Sun 2 shows in it. It only dips to 51 FPS once you're in the monastery with no scaling (and about 40 with software bilinear). The compatibility is similar to TempGBA 1.45 for the Supercard DSTwo, so a lot of games run with no issues whatsoever, but Kingdom Hearts freezes and so on.

    I believe PocketSNES runs with Snes9x 1.52 as its core. Check out Paul Cercueil's repository: https://github.com/pcercuei/PocketSNES
     
  18. the_randomizer

    the_randomizer The Temp's official fox whisperer

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    It would seem that it has issues with framerates and being choppy with the speed and so on. Tis a shame, because that device looks like it's powerful enough or should be but isn't:P
     
  19. Nebuleon

    Nebuleon MAH BOI/GURL

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    You must be watching old videos. After an update that added 16-bit-per-pixel framebuffer support around 6 months ago, even SMW2 "Yoshi's Island" runs in-game at 60 FPS almost everywhere.

    edit:

     
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  20. the_randomizer

    the_randomizer The Temp's official fox whisperer

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    I'll be. I stand corrected runs pretty good actually :D But it seems like it's based off of 1.51 instead, the sound effects in Chrono Trigger are way off :P